Sunday, March 28, 2010

Palm Sunday

Christ Church Cathedral, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Palm Sunday Service. Laura and I arrived on the Harley late. That way we miss the children's part of the service at the opening but then we're seated in the late section beside the family section. For 12 years I've watched infants become toddlers and then children who go onto to be rather pleasant young people. The kids in church aren't on drugs or stabbing adults so it's a nice change from the media presentation of children. I can see why the parents keep these.
The choir is on best behaviour for Holy Week. Their voices are so divine it's almost like Rupert Lang has invited some angelic intervention. I loved the brass. There's always brass for the C&E crowds. Us regulars don't get enough of it the rest of the year. Makes us almost tolerant of those droves of Christians that get in just this side of rapture and receive an Easter blessing so they can mess up the rest of their year. Anglicans.
The Catholics are better sinners and take communion almost desperately and daily. The Baptists are more stoic and go months without bread or wine at times just to show how long their purity will keep. The United Church, however, is still testing the shelf life on grace.
That said I arrived cynical and left almost peaceful and jubilant. It gets to me how that happens in church. It's not like I want to give up my cudgemudgeon. I look about and there's as many people with that before communion look which has a spiritual equivalent to the before coffee look one sees on the subway.
Volunteers from the parish did a dramatic reader's digest synopsis of the events leading to the crucifixion and resurrection. I was impressed. It still gets me that people just like me preferred a murderer and rebel to a rabbi. And these were jews. Moslems or Catholics weren't even in the bidding at that stage. But Barabass lived and Jesus died.
Briefly, the story goes, that Jesus was this man who did miraculous things and taught peace and was thought by himself and his disciples to be divinely connected. He was jewish so that's no surprise as that arrogant lot has been calling themselves the chosen people for a dog's age and they're not even from Ireland or Scotland. Jesus came into Jerusalem and was tried by the authorities who killed him on the cross. Three days later he resurrected and asscended into heaven after being seen by hundreds.
I don't doubt this divine man existed. Some say he was a rabbi and others say his teachings were the "Q" texts of history. It's pretty clear that he wasn't in favour of war or weapons or accumulation of wealth on earth. He was definitely spiritual. The secular and religious authorities of the day considered him a threat to their personal power and killed him.
Only a hundred years ago Anglicans were locked up for dressing in the wrong robes. Recently it was suggested I cut my hair and wear a three peice suit to be better doctor. Galileo and so many others were almost axed by the authorities. Women who wouldn't sleep with authorites were called witches and burnt. People in power commonly abuse that power. The government today almost killed everyone with nuclear weapons. So this government would likely kill Jesus if he were here today.
And frankly, I'm not sure I'd do anything about it. If he hung out with me and was a friend, faced with torture by the RCMP or FBI or KGB or even the mafia or maybe even Revenue Canada or the IRS, I'd say I didn't know the guy. If someone from Visa or the bank called and asked if I knew an outlaw by the name of Jesus, I'd say "I don't know any Mexicans."
That's what his disciples did. He died alone but said "forgive them because they know not what they do." I'm not particularly forgiving so I don't think I'd be saying such a thing if I was being beat up by my enemies. I've tended to think of the most hienous ways my enemies could die instead. I'd certainly take the opportunity to tell them what I'd do with them and their genetic strain and forgiving would not slip off my tongue if I was in pain.
Jesus's most controversial message though was "love your enemies". He said "Love God" but that wasn't new and he also said "Love your neighbour as yourself" and that Golden Rule is found in almost every religion. Not that anybody pays attention to it. But it's not original and when Jesus said that, that was the essence of the Bible of his day. But they didn't have today's Palestinians at that time.
"Love your enemy" is however pure Jesus. My best Jewish friend says 'revenge' or 'avoid' but don't 'love your enemy'. He says "forgive' is fairly Judaic but 'love your enemy' he thinks is insane. Given the recent holocaust I don't judge him. I'm not a loving sort myself. He's far more loving than I am. Father, kids, grandkids, a real mensch. But don't cross him. He's not into loving his enemy.
I pray for my enemies everyday. It keeps the list fresh in case God changes his mind and says loving is out this week and you can revenge all you want. I'd be the first off the blocks hacking and butchering with glee. I'm always worried that the minute I become loving too, others will take advantage. It's also tough too to be loving because it increases the risk I'll get killed some government. The Dalai Lama wasn't a bad sort but even as a kid the Chinese were set on machine gunning him to death for his loving nature.
The last thing the authorities want is for love to spread.
Meanwhile I do think 'love your enemy' is the basis of the idea that Jesus was a 'homo spiritualis' the next stage of human evolution. We'd better get beyond tribalism or all we will have is the 'other world'. I'm happy with the 'other world'. I'm 'otherworldly' but this world is already here. We'd better learn how to not kill each other and everything on the planet soon or even Aliens won't ever visit us. I suspect the aliens are out there waiting for us to be toilet trained before risking a visit. They see what we did to a man who was probably God.
Rev. Patrick Blaney lit up the service with his account of the significance of holy week with the stations of the cross. He then told of his becoming a Christian. He sat outside church unable to bring himself into enter into congregation and communion. He was afraid someone would see him. He described the fear he had at making this first step into a church. He felt someone would shout."What are you doing there Patrick. You're not a Christian." He was seriously worried that entering a church would change his life. He said it was like "worrying about the pharmacists coming on the overhead anouncement calling your name to pick up some personal product." Rev. Blaney appears to have stuck with that unwholesome personal product called a relationship with Jesus.
I remember myself being embarrassed to be a Christian as an adolescent then marrying a non Christian and getting caught up in the yuppie world of secular glitter and mirrors. I never stopped being a Christian. I just stopped talking about it in general. I became a doctor because Jesus was a healer and I wanted to be like Jesus. If he'd been a GI Joe maybe I'd have ended up with M2 rifle. I had lots of such secular alternatives. I watched Perry Mason and might have been a lawyer. Perry Mason wasn't on MASH and didn't have Hotlips though. Jesus was my kind of Buddha, Gandhi, Einstein, Shakespeare, all rolled in one, the greatest story teller, teacher, and miraculous healer. I wasn't sure about the 'redeeming my sins' part. I just knew that the guys making nuclear weapons weren't my kind of hero. I did like the NASA crew and still hope they're get off the ground and find some adult supervision for the guys messing with the world, causing poverty and killing anyone they can.
All that my Mom and Aunt taught me about Jesus was that he wasn't a bully but a friend. The minister came across as a bully and I didn't consider him a friend. But my Sunday School teachers were kindly and later when I studied theology all of those teachers were Christ like in their own way.
I found I could call on Jesus and when I called his name or even called on God when I was frightened and alone I'd feel better and things just seemed to get better. I studied the Bible too and for a dirty book it was pretty good reading.
I also studied medicine with the most religious of men, not just Christians, but Jews, Moslems, Buddhists, Hindis, and come to think of it all my very best teachers were theists. There was an occasional aetheist but they didn't stand out. Maybe they were in administration. But they say there aren't any aetheists in foxholes and I didn't find many in the trenches of the bedside either.
It was the missionary zeal and self sacrificing natures of my favourite medical teachers and mentors who most touched me and caused me to strive to be my best.
Were it not for them I'd not have worked in the most dangerous and least serviced areas, the north, the country, the university and the inner city. I 'served' and saw my work as a 'calling' and the people I most admired in my field saw it similiarly.
Being in church listening to the sermon, then listening to the choir, singing along, remembering times I've sat with the priests here, talking about life and spirituality, the spiritual direction, afternoon meetings, communion, community, it all felt good.
There was this little boy who was with his parents and I thought he's going to grow up one day and probably become like Jesus too. His parents were that sort of caring.
What is strange to me is that the Roman army became Christians and forced Constantine to accept Christianity as the 'state' church or else. What is it about Christianity that causes the likes of St. Ignatius to lay down his sword. The church has it's share of cowards but it's not a religion for the cowardly. All over the world Christians are persecuted. I've been persecuted just for being a Christian. Being an ecumenical Christian I've always been tolerant of other religious groups but that's not been reciprocal.
I understand Peter denying his relationship with Jesus. It's in Holy Week we ask ourselves if we want to be like Issaac Newton, Einstein, Carl Jung, and St. Theresa and believe in God and the spiritual. Just what do we think of community, morality, and things like the 10 commandments of Moses or the Sermon on the Mount by Jesus. Should the 'meek' inherit the earth or should it be 'survival of the fittest' , the most fit having the most toys and guns? Is Christianity a religion for losers run by priests who tow the line so they don't offend the secular powers? It's been a long time since a Pope or Iman or Canterbury Bishop got crucified. They seem to be thick with the G8 crowd wanting land and buildings and not questioning authorities. Were it not for the likes of Bonhoffer German Christians would have collectively looked bad in Nazi Germany. How can one be a Canadian Citizen and still be a Christian is the kind of question Holy Week insists we ask ourselves. Right now my vote is with Barabass and like Patrick Blaney I'm a little afraid to be going to church this week since for all I know I might end up in jail if I really take Christianity seriously. Thankfully crucifixion is politically incorrect in Canada.
Now I figure I've got to see Mel Gibson's movie. I'd rather watch a story of vengeance, all the cop shows, all the war shows, all the good girl gets even with the bad girls, all the loser wins in the end movies that I really enjoy watching. Right now I'm reading Churchill's River Wars about Christians bashing Arabs. That's what I like to read but Mel Gibson's ,The Passion doesn't have Jesus riding triumphant home to the girls who didn't write dear john letters to boys in Afghanistan.
In this story the hero gets it in the neck. Then he disappears in the air. Later everyone in the civilized western world believes in him and civilization occurs in the west lead by his words. C. S. Lewis's Mere Christianity reading on the BBC radio during the Battle of Britain helps change history. The inspiration of the Bible is the best of the justice code. All the 'hotel d' dieux' hospitals in the world care for the sick and suffering. The monks and monasteries and the nuns and Christian teachers laid the basis for education in the west for nearly 2000 years. We've only been on a get rid of the Bible and outlaw God experiment for maybe 20 years. It's too short a time to tell but so far I've personally not seen a whole lot. Sure, the preists were the 'winning the hearts and minds' message of the Spanish Conquistadores but no religion has any better record than Christianity. Man has been killing each other in the name of God in every language and religion in the world. It's not surprising that God might get his own back with the occasional tsunami or hurricane. I personally believe that God is loving and that this is just part of life. Life isn't safe. No one gets out a live.
What does God want me personally to make of this story. Is it really just a way to frighten me and make me follow Gordon Campbell, Harper and Obama? It's the most frightening story that would keep the most timid in line. Or is it really true that there's an "otherworld", maybe the laws of which are as spiritually true as the scientific laws we know.
Should I work on 'loving my enemy' or get a cruise missile and a glock pistol like my government and my tv cop show heros? Holy Week is a kind of time of reconsidering all one's life choices and asking if what I'm doing today is Christian. Am I being the best person I can be? Should I put material wealth before integrity? Can I have my cake and eat it?
It was all so clear to me when I was in Jerusalem. Walking on the Via Doloroso I walked with Jesus. At Bethlehem I was touched as so many times in my life I've had that moment when the divine seemed to be present. Then there's been the dessert times and the lonely times.
Palm Sunday is the beginning of Holy Week. It's that time to get close, real close and watch out, you just might hear your name called. Christianity is a personal product.

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